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J Neurophysiol. 1993 Sep;70(3):909-19.

Focal attention produces spatially selective processing in visual cortical areas V1, V2, and V4 in the presence of competing stimuli.

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Veterans Administration Medical Center, Syracuse, New York.


1. The activity of single neurons was recorded in Macaca mulatta monkeys while they performed tasks requiring them to select a cued stimulus from an array of three to eight stimuli and report the orientation of that stimulus. Stimuli were presented in a circular array centered on the fixation target and scaled to place a single stimulus element within the receptive field of the neuron under study. The timing of the cuing event permitted the directing of visual attention to the spatial location of the correct stimulus before its presentation. 2. The effects of focal attention were examined in cortical visual areas V1, V2, and V4, where a total of 672 neurons were isolated with complete studies obtained for 94 V1, 74 V2, and 74 V4 neurons with receptive-field center eccentricities in the range 1.8-8 degrees. Under certain conditions, directed focal attention results in changes in the response of V1, V2, and V4 neurons to otherwise identical stimuli at spatially specific locations. 3. More than one-third of the neurons in each area displayed differential sensitivity when attention was directed toward versus away from the spatial location of the receptive field just before and during stimulus presentation. Both relative increases and decreases in neural activity were observed in association with attention directed at receptive-field stimuli. 4. The presence of multiple competing stimuli in the visual field was a major factor determining the presence or absence of differential sensitivity. About two-thirds of the neurons that were differentially sensitive to the attending condition in the presence of competing stimuli were not differentially sensitive when single stimuli were presented in control studies. For V1 and V2 neurons the presence of only a few (3-4) competing stimuli was sufficient for a majority of the neurons studied; a majority of the V4 neurons required six to eight stimuli in the array before significant differences between attending conditions occurred. 5. For V1 and V2 neurons the neuronal sensitivity differences between attending conditions were observed primarily at or near the peak of the orientation tuning sensitivity for each neuron; the differences were evident over a broader range of orientations in V4 neurons. 6. In conclusion, neural correlates of focal attentive processes can be observed in visual cortical processing in areas V1 and V2 as well as area V4 under conditions that require stimulus feature analysis and selective spatial processing within a field of competing stimuli.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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